Men and Women sorting eggs from their chickens indoors.

The 12 Cornerstones

Forming the foundation of our work

Men and Women sorting eggs from their chickens indoors.

A set of 12 core values known as the Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development form the foundation of our work.

All project participants take part in training around the Cornerstones, establishing a set of common values between them at the beginning of the partnership.

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Man and woman holding chickens and smiling.

1. Passing on the Gift

For every family we work with, at least one more benefits. Often, many more.

How do we know that? Because Passing on the Gift is at the center of all our programs.

The idea is simple. Each family that partners with us on a project commits to passing on a cow, goats, chickens, seeds, supplies for an irrigation system or even an energy-efficient oven – whatever makes the most sense for them and their neighbors once they've established their business.

It’s truly a network effect. Families share the core components necessary to start a business and any other lessons that they’ve learned along the way. In doing so, they give area families the tools they need to start their own businesses, creating a network of partners, suppliers, and even customers – all invested in seeing each others' businesses thrive and grow.

As they empower their neighbors, inclusive economies start to grow organically. These ecosystems are led by local people, who understand regional dynamics and are able to develop solutions tailored to their communities.

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Woman with Money

2. Accountability

We want to provide the connections that are essential for farmers to shift from subsistence to sustainability. The power of these connections – with partners and customers – allows farmers to grow, expand, and build their businesses so that they can participate in the global economy that has overlooked them for generations.

Accountability is vital for farmers to strengthen their networks. Every partner wants to know they can trust each other, and that requires cultivation.

Families invest their own money, labor and other resources into their businesses, together with Heifer and other partners. Project participants set up the governance mechanisms for their self-help groups and cooperatives with support from our expert field staff. All members actively participate and key roles rotate among them.

Our projects all feed into a comprehensive program framework that monitors and evaluates a set of key indicators throughout the lifetime of the project. Everyone involved can quickly see what’s working and what isn’t, and be accountable to each other for the outcomes.

Ladies with Goats

3. Sharing and Caring

To end poverty globally, we work locally, partnering with community members invested in finding and delivering solutions for their families and neighbors.

In order for them to prosper, it’s critical that sharing and caring are woven into the fabric of their community.

Sharing lessons about growing vegetables or raising chickens can improve the nutrition of entire villages. Techniques for preserving water and soil nutrients can protect entire crops from drought and climate change. Information on animal management and market prices can increase productivity and in turn, increase profits for everyone.

After all, communities are made up of neighbors, friends and families – all of whom are potential customers.

Farmers with Pigs

4. Sustainability and Self-Reliance

We believe that small-scale farming is the future – not just the history – of our economy.

To that end, we teach our partners effective tools of the trade and the foundation of commerce itself.

By fostering an environment where people openly share knowledge, best practices can be distributed from person-to-person, organically creating more stewards of the land.

We connect farmers to self-help groups and cooperatives to ensure that they have a local support network and negotiating power. Through training and access to agricultural experts, farmers learn to produce a greater abundance of higher quality products.

Consistency in both quantity and quality of supply, paired with the power of cooperatives, enables farmers to access new markets. Buyers are eager to engage, knowing and trusting the process farmers have been through as part of the Heifer model.

By bringing together the demand for goods and empowering the people who supply them, we are building inclusive economies – resulting in living incomes for farmers and markets that are sustainable on their own.

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Woman with Baby Ducks

5. Improved Animal and Resource Management

Livestock is key to farmers reaching a living income. In fact, animals are often their most valuable assets.

For animals to keep producing high-quality milk, eggs, and meat, they must be treated well.

For 75 years, we have trained farmers to improve the nutrition, health, housing, management and breeding of their animals.

We support this approach by working with and training local service providers – ranging from extension workers, who increase the productivity of farms, to Community Animal Health Workers, local veterinarians who operate small businesses within their communities. Additionally, we connect farmers with government and private sector providers so they can give the best quality care to their animals.

All of the instruction and support we provide focuses on products and materials that are locally available, so farmers are able to keep their livestock in top condition, even after our projects with them have ended.

Healthy animals produce nutritious food and a secure source of income for farmers. They know the importance of keeping them fit and well. We make sure they can continue to do so, using resources that are readily available where they live and farm.

Income icon
Man planting crops

6. Nutrition and Income

In areas of high malnutrition and food insecurity, animal-sourced foods are the fastest way to get vital nutrients to the people that need them most.

Livestock provides high-quality protein such as milk, meat and eggs. Their fiber can be used to make wool and other income-generating products. And their manure helps put vital nutrients back into the soil. 

But we do more than breed livestock. We work with farmers to identify the best value chains to increase their incomes. We help them do the analysis and identify opportunities. And we support the diversification of their farms and implementing ways to grow their own food.

Whether it’s cardamom growers in Guatemala, oil seed farmers in Uganda, or poultry producers in Cambodia, all our work is focused on closing the living income gap and building sustainable markets that deliver for farmers.

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7. Gender and Family Focus

Ending poverty begins with agriculture.

We believe women-led smallholder farming is the future of our economy and our relationship with the earth.

When women have the opportunity to earn their own income and decide how it’s spent, the whole family benefits.

Women reinvest up to 90 percent of their income back into their families, making sure they have balanced diets full of nutritious food – whether they purchase it locally or buy seeds to grow their own.

They’re able to plan for tomorrow, next month and next year, so their family stays food secure and has something in reserve when storms hit.

Justice scales icon
People around water

8. Genuine Need and Justice

We work with people and communities at every level of poverty, because to build inclusive economies, we need everyone involved.

Farmers need agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilizers, and products to keep their animals in good health. They also need access to local veterinarians, community animal health workers and feed suppliers.

Through savings and loans programs, locals invest in each other as they start to build their businesses. Together with Heifer, they create a platform with strong values for other partners to invest in.

When communities work together and are connected to other communities, inclusive economies start to grow. It’s here that opportunities develop for businesses, both big and small, to flourish. 

Improving the Environment Icon
Planting seedlings

9. Improving the Environment

The world’s poorest people are the most at risk from climate change – and many of them are farmers.

They know the importance of protecting the environment better than anyone. Their lives and livelihoods depend on it.

With the right tools and training, we believe farmers can be at the forefront of defending our planet. Not only that, but they can make a living income doing it.

Our experts provide climate-smart agricultural training so farmers can learn how to restore soil nutrients and retain moisture in their fields. We also help communities devise strategies for waste disposal, so their soil, rivers and lakes don’t get contaminated by humans and animals.

We also work with livestock farmers to manage the size of their flocks and herds. By improving breed quality and raising healthier animals, they can get better prices for their products, and do so in a way that puts less stress on local resources and protects the environment for future generations.

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10. Full Participation

The best way to strengthen resilience is for individual communities to envision their future and see that it’s possible.

Our mission is to help them to build it.

For this to work, all project participants have to be involved in planning and decision-making. That’s why most of the self-help groups we work with make it mandatory for all members to participate in their savings and loan programs.

All members participate in group meetings and hold shares in their cooperative. Another integral aspect of the self-help groups is that leadership positions rotate, so all members can build their skills and have their voices heard.

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Woman speaking to group

11. Training, Education and Communication

We invest in individuals and communities around the world, teaching effective techniques for farming and commerce.

We know how to produce goods that are difficult to harvest or in short supply while simultaneously bringing people to a living income.

Many of the farmers and entrepreneurs we work with are already growing food crops or raising livestock. With our help, they can scale up their businesses and tap into new ways of increasing their incomes.

With training from local experts, farmers learn new ways to improve the quantity and quality of their products and add value to their raw product. As their businesses expand, we connect farmers to markets and support them to develop new skills in financial and business management, so their incomes continue to grow.

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People with candles

12. Spirituality

We are not affiliated with any religion, though our roots are in the Church of the Brethren.

We believe in shared values and a sense of connectedness to the Earth. This values-based approach builds strong bonds between communities, helping them to build towards a better future and bring an end to hunger and poverty.